Baltimore rush hour traffic has slowed to a crawl after adjustments to lights at some intersections.
I was born in Baltimore. I have lived here pretty much my entire life. I love it. I defend it to critics. But Baltimore has problems. I’m not referring to the well-documented (and hugely important) problems of our murder rate or crime in general. I’m not referring to drugs, gangs or problems with our schools.
I’m referring to the everyday annoyances of living in Baltimore. These are not things that affect public safety, but they do affect public happiness. They are the day-in and day-out hassles of life, and in Baltimore, it feels like they’re getting worse. I’m genuinely worried that this slide could lead residents to throw up their hands and conclude that it isn’t worth it to live or work here anymore.
What’s worse: All of these headaches are avoidable.
I wish I could ask the mayor to accompany me on my daily commute. It’s not very long — from Cross Keys to the Inner Harbor — but every step of the way is filled with examples of what I’m talking about.
The Hogan administration's commitment to Baltimore transit continues to fall short.
We begin with the roller coaster that Falls Road has become, after its serial unsuccessful repaving attempts on the south-bound side of the street near Poly and Western high schools. After a brief ride on I-83 south, we get to choose which congested route to take into the downtown area: the one choked by bike lanes (Maryland Avenue) or the one choked by bus lanes (Guilford Avenue). Before cutting these streets’ vehicular capacities, did anyone think about the impact on traffic and drive times?
Guilford Avenue was my route of choice about a year ago, when I saw barriers and a construction fence blocking the left-hand lane of South Street, which Guilford turns into after crossing Baltimore Street. I assumed construction of some kind would begin shortly, and there would be a temporary headache — all in the name of progress. Over the next three months, whatever construction happened was not visible to me, but the fence remained to impede traffic all the same. A street view of the area on Google maps shows the fence there, with what appears to be concrete work being done on the roadway in November, but why it went on so long is a mystery. My multiple calls to the Department of Public Works, 3-1-1 and the mayor’s office to ask who authorized the construction of the fence on a public roadway and why, went unanswered. Eventually, the fence came down.
Throughout the city, traffic problems have been exacerbated recently by changes to traffic signal timing at various intersections. Frustrations over fresh delays frequently result in drivers “blocking the box,” which only makes things worse. And it is unclear what training our transportation enforcement officers have received — other than advanced whistle-blowing.
In the past year or so, my commute time has doubled. And I’m not alone. Recently, my daughter-in-law allowed an hour to get from her home in Woodberry to an event downtown — what should have been a 20-minute ride. When she hit the 90-minute mark, she turned around and went home. We found no accidents or other events that might have explained that absurd delay. It recently took my wife more than 30 minutes to drive north through the downtown area, from Light and East Conway streets to the Gay Street entrance to I-83.
Has the mayor driven on Baltimore’s roads recently? Does she feel the same spine-rattling jolts that I do, every day, when I forget to avoid that particularly treacherous pothole in the right-hand lane of I-83 North, just south of the Cold Spring Lane exit?
Near there are the barrels filled with sand, placed at exits to cushion the blow if someone were to hit a guardrail. Another good idea. But they have done their job and cushioned the blow, so now we have broken barrels with sand spilling from them. Does anyone notice any of these things? Does anyone see the curbs crumbling or notice the streets paved with metal plates to cover incomplete repairs?
None of these problems is major. But, especially in the aggregate, they all matter.
When William Donald Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore, he constantly wrote “do it now” notes. If he noticed trash in an alley or felt a pothole or saw an abandoned home, he made sure that someone on the city payroll knew that was a problem and that he wanted it fixed — NOW! My sense is that no one in city government is doing anything similar today. Instead of “do it now,” Baltimore today feels like “who cares?”
The mayor seems to try to put a positive spin on the city and its efforts to improve. But until Baltimore shows that it that has its act together, until the quality of life improves, until it’s less of a hassle to live here, it’s going to be tougher for me to defend it to its many detractors.